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LAHS cross country teams look strong as new season gets underway

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By Phil Scherer

Over the past decade, Los Alamos High School has been seen as the gold standard when it comes to cross country in New Mexico.

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That is for good reason, as the girls won seven consecutive state championships from 2009-2015 and the boys won four straight from 2011-2014.

Heading into this season, however, things are a little different. Neither team brought home a state championship last season, as the girls finished as the runner-ups and the boys finished in third place.

While coaches Rob and Kathy Hipwood think earning state championships is possible this season, it is not their focus.

“We feel that getting to that level is certainly attainable, but our intent is for the kids to just focus on the process,” Rob Hipwood said.

On the girl’s side, one of the biggest hurdles to getting back atop the championship podium will be Albuquerque Academy, which won the state championship in 2016 and return many of their top runners.

“Academy is very, very strong,” Rob Hipwood said. “We could have an exceptional season and then not quite get there.”

The coaches feel that the front-running girls will give them a chance to compete.

“We are definitely going to be in the running at the end as long as everyone can stay healthy,” Rob Hipwood said.

In their first meet of the year, the University of New Mexico Invitational, Lidia Appell and Norissa Valdez led the girls as they finished in fifth place overall, which was the team’s goal heading into the event.

“Marin Kelly, who was our fourth girl this year, had a better time than our first girl last year,” Kathy Hipwood said. “So it was definitely a big improvement.”

For the boys, the coaches feel that confidence and togetherness will be the keys that determine their success.

“We certainly have confidence in them,” Rob Hipwood said. “One of our short term goals is to develop a team bond that we think will be necessary for them to get to the level that they can compete.”

The Hilltopper boys’ top competition will be Albuquerque Academy and Kirtland Central High School, who were the top two teams last year.

“The top three teams last year are going to be the top three teams again this year, and that’s how they lined up at the UNM meet,” Rob Hipwood said.

The top boy for the Hilltoppers at the meet was Rafael Sanchez, who finished in the top ten overall. Other top competitors for the boys were Kevin Parkinson, Josh Strevell, Steven Strevell and Elijah Velasquez, who all finished in the top 100.

“Rafael was a standout for sure, but there are a lot of different runners who will be able to contribute any given week,” Kathy Hipwood said.

The Hilltoppers will look to continue to improve their results as the season moves along.

Their next chance to compete will come next weekend in the Cleveland Invitational in Rio Rancho.